In our piece in today’s Foreign Affairs, strategic planner at U.S. Cyber Command Dave Weinstein and I discuss the conflicting interests between NSA and Cyber Command and why it would be a good idea to have them under separate leadership. The following is an excerpt:

Standard military doctrine tries to overcome this age-old struggle with “an evaluation of the quantity and quality of intelligence lost versus potential gain should a particular target be attacked” — also known as an “intelligence gain/loss assessment.” An objective arbiter or higher-ranking authority (usually a civilian) adjudicates the position of both parties, who proceed accordingly.

In this respect, operations in cyberspace should not be handled any differently than those in physical domains. But that is precisely the problem with Alexander’s “dual-hatted” authority as the head of Cyber Command and director of the NSA: He is at once an operator and a collector in cyberspace and the arbiter for both. Given his often conflicting obligations to cyberspace operations under Title 10 of the U.S. Code and signals intelligence under Title 50, he is compelled to arbitrate in favor of one or the other, rather than advocate on behalf of either side. This is an unprecedented phenomenon that has created a dizzying conundrum for his staffs in both organizations, who find themselves having to read between the lines to ascertain which hat their boss is wearing at any given time. (And it is only natural that various staff members would pull their punches on occasion to spare their leader the perception of clashing interests across the two organizations.)

National Security Operations Center (NSOC). Photo: Wikipedia

National Security Operations Center (NSOC). Photo: Wikipedia

The practical result has been that the NSA has ended up dominating Cyber Command in domain-related arbitrations. This should come as no surprise: The NSA is a significantly older, more established institution — it was founded more than 60 years ago, whereas Cyber Command is still shy of its fourth birthday — and consequently has a stronger gravitational pull in Washington. In the absence of a high-level advocate offering a full-throated argument on behalf of Cyber Command’s interests, the military organization is likely to find itself on the short end of appropriations, personnel, intellectual capital, and technical capacity.

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